From Scott Carlberg

“There’s not going to be a whole lot of difference between the last day of 2020 and the first day of 2021.” That is a quote from the leader of the North Carolina Utility Commission Public Staff in a recent webinar. As writers strain to predict something new for 2021, I think that comment rings most true.

The energy world has been on a tear the last few years and the trends are largely established. With the election behind us, perhaps some energy trends in 2021 go into a higher gear.

What are some energy trends?

Energy storage. Solar and wind have been the big news. Those will not stall, but energy storage will sprint with them because energy storage is essential for the most effective wind and solar – both intermittent generation sources – to continue strong growth.

Where that storage is placed will be interesting. Here’s a headline about that: PG&E’s Latest Energy Storage Procurement Includes Fleet of Behind-the-Meter Batteries. (Image, left.) In other words, the storage systems will be smaller (comparative to full utility scale) and on the customers’ premises. Behind the meter means inside the customers’ walls or fence lines. The utility will be able to tap into this energy when needed; the customer will have it close to home.

Hydrogen power. Long dreamed of and just getting to scale in research, hydrogen has been considered a desirable fuel. Technological challenges about cost and the use of carbon in its production have held up hydrogen. Green hydrogen is made by electrolysis powered by renewable energy. Check our blog about hydrogen. Consider also the way carbon-free nuclear power can be used to produce hydrogen.

Small nuclear. Several companies are advancing micro-reactors. Oklo and NuScale are two companies in this business, looking for places and partners to move forward. These technologies, in the opinion of ECC, are superb team-members to move the world toward carbon-free goals and can be excellent sources for reliable, clean power to drive economic development. Here’s a question for the Carolinas: You know a lot about nuclear and micro-reactors are the future. Will the Carolinas sit-out the opportunity and let others pilot and use this technology first?

Oil companies. Not oil, but oil companies. Big Oil has big experience in essential energy engineering technologies. For instance, Equinor (used to be Norwegian oil company, StatOil) will tap its core business to fund renewable projects. “It believes that Europe will produce 450 GW (Gigawatts) from offshore wind by 2050, 212 GW of which will come from the North Sea. And given Equinor’s experience in the North Sea, it’s perfectly positioned to take advantage of this tailwind.” (Source)

Policy. Of course, especially after any election season. So look for much anticipated support for carbon-free energy, electric vehicles, and home efficiency. 2020, however saw a big policy: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Order 2222, “The order paves the way for distributed energy resources, like solar PV and energy storage, to participate in wholesale energy markets. The rationale here had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with economics: these resources provide benefits, and excluding them limits competition and raises prices.” (Source)

Electric vehicles. Of course, EV’s. Noted above. Lots of new vehicles are coming to the market. New charging networks are being put in place. Charging needs to get put in place. States and nations are planning the elimination of the combustion engine. Want a look ahead? Car and Driver ran an overview of what’s ahead by looking at 2020.

Corporate evolution. This sets the tone for change and says a lot about companies – can they foresee the need to change and get moving to allow positive change to happen? Or, are they wearing blinders?

Moody’s, a financial analysis firm, notes that environmental, social and governance factors are major elements in recent company mergers and sales. Those are a lot of moving parts in addition to daily operations (actually a part of daily ops).

Corporate consolidations have the benefits of, depending on the deal, diversifying territories, adding crucial experience, providing new workforce opportunities, adding significant financial strength for energy investments, or for a more desirable energy profile. (Source – image left.) These changes are often beneficial catalysts for customers.

The past is prologue in the energy industry. The only difference may be the pace of change – faster. Some utilities have already shown they know how to change. Others need to get on board on behalf of their customers.